Monday, May 31, 2010


Found a fun little semi-addictive game this afternoon, a variant on Mine Sweeper. (Linked to an English page at Play This Thing; the actual game is on a Japanese page, but is easy to play anyway) Instead of mines, you’re uncovering monsters of differing levels, and the objective is to not just find them, but to clear the board. There are monsters of level 1, 2, 3, and 4, and the numbers indicate the total levels of the surrounding monsters. You start off at level 1, and can click on level 1 monsters (blue blobby things) with impunity. Uncovering a monster above your level does damage to you (though you do get experience!) and so you have some ability to click around in the beginning.

If you have trouble (as I do) keeping track of your logical deductions, you can hover over covered squares and press the A and D keys to cycle through the different levels of potential monster. (They don’t bother with level 1, because you can always uncover those)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pandora rocks

I now have a Pandora station that plays almost nothing but bagpipe music. This makes me insanely happy. Emphasis, possibly, on “insane”.

Carry on.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Little Bit Off the Top

Phew! I managed to cut “The Body and the Bomb” down from 9,000 words to 7,600. It’s not quite the 6,000 that had been recommended to me in the excellent advice from the reader at Strange Horizons, but I think I’ve improved the pace considerably. I’m a little less sanguine about how well clued the story is: I think a number of readers are going to guess the ending midway through. I’m gone through and removed some clues, muddied the waters a little, but it may still be too obvious. Still, I think it’s a solid enjoyable piece, more so now.

So I think that my plan of action will be to send this draft as-is to the next two electronic markets. If neither of them takes it, I’ll shelve it for a month and try a more thorough hack job later.

Besides, I don’t want to spend too much time on that now, because I’ve got a nice shiny new short story in the works. The tentatively titled “A Stab in the Dark” looks to run about 5,000 words, and is a lot more in line with traditional murder mysteries with alibis to break and weird clues to frame correctly. It’s got a good solid plot, and I think it will be a lot of fun to read. My original plan for it revolved around what turned out to be a really clumsy, flimsy clue -- but I kept picking at it, and managed to shove that bit to the side in favor of something much more iron-clade.

One of the things that I’ve really struggled with is how to make these actual science fiction mysteries: that is, I want the science fiction aspect to actually be important, not just “Sherlock Holmes in Space.” These should be stories that just can’t work in 1920s London or the modern day. Looking back, I think I’ve had the most success with those stories that would fall apart without the sci-fi element: space-borne telescopic arrays, robots as lethal instruments, pervasive sensor logs, home-built nuclear weapons, etc.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the stories that don’t really need that aspect (“Down Came a Blackbird” and “The Detective and the Detective”) are the ones that I’ve really stumbled on, the ones that have given me fits. But the ones that work, I’m pretty proud of. The writing is still pretty rough, and I’m sure I’m making plenty of amateur mistakes, but I’m happy with a lot of what I’ve written, it doesn’t make me nervous any more to show them to people.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stuff to Read

Been finding lots of great stuff to read (or listen to) out on the interwebs lately, and just realized that I haven’t bothered to share a lot of it! Oops.

The first big find has been a trio of podcasts: Escape Pod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod. Each one is an audio short story podcast for science fiction, fantasy, and horror, respectively -- they’ve got good readers and good taste. (I know so, because I heard about them from someone who also has good taste)

Not one for the listening? Well, step this way! Plenty of great free fiction online. If you’re not reading Strange Horizons, or Beneath Ceaseless Skies, those are your natural first stops.

Not enough? There’s plenty of good stuff online. All the links above will get you to some good fiction. If you’re looking for individual authors, have a look at Chuck Wendig (whose blog is also well worth reading), and Saladin Ahmed (I’ve been reading everything by him that I can get my hands on -- great stuff!)

And if that’s still not enough... I have some drafts that need editing? :)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

In Which Our Heft Turns Out To Be Pretty Good Protection

OK, I get it: alien invasion of Earth is a fascinating thought experiment. We’re all familiar with the history of exploration and colonialism, and it’s a useful exercise to imagine all of humanity on the wrong side of it -- preferably in the face of something mean and scaly.

But articles like this one (repeating to some extent Stephen Hawking’s recent musing on the subject) that talk about hordes of aliens skipping from planet to planet stripping them of resources miss one important point: Invading an occupied planet for its resources is stupid, stupid, stupid. Here’s the thing: there’s almost nothing on this planet that cannot be found, in abundance, on the various moons, asteroids, comets, and other small bodies in our solar system. Water? All over the place. Hydrocarbons? Maybe, but there are smaller moons that look pretty good for that, at least for the simple ones [1]. Gold, iron, platinum, uranium, tritium: there for the taking.

What do those sources not have? Angry defenders (to be brushed away like gnats, natch) and a big honking gravity well (Link found quickly and easily via DCKX!). Yup, everything stolen from us pathetic Earthlings has to be hauled uphill at considerable cost. Whereas to drive off aliens stealing our asteroids, we would have to develop ships to go attack them. Even if you were a total badass, if you’re that interested in resources, you’ve probably got accountants who will tell you the right answer.

So, the moral of the story is, if aliens ever rain death upon us, it won’t be so they can steal our gold, it will be because they simply want to kill us. Possibly because they watched Glen Beck.

Now, there do remain potential invasion scenarios which do pop up from time to time. First possibility: capture a whole lot of semi-intelligent hominids to use as slaves, mining marshmallow peeps on Regulus V. (What? Where do YOU think they come from?) [2] Second possibility: Settlement, either permanent or temporary. (Both of those say a lot about the conquering aliens, in a “why do you have this technology, but not this other one?” way that leads to interesting books) Now, Prof. Hawking could argue that these are highly likely to be the case, but I’m not nearly so sure.

[1] This leads to the hilarious-to-me situation where “Aliens invade Earth for its oil” is actually the most plausible of the “resource stealing” scenarios... and is the one that nobody will touch because it’s just too corny and heavy-handed. Gotta love that.
[2] My personal theory is that Earth is a secret sweatshop for an alien race that really, really likes second-hand plastic.

In the year 20XX..

I’m not saying it’s not ridiculous or over the top. I’m not even saying it’s good. But this Mega Man fan film is definitely awesome. Go on, spend 90 minutes reliving those Saturday mornings on the couch with a blocky gray controller and aching thumbs.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Advice For the Day

Every now and then, it bears repeating:
Not everything in life is a test of your religious or political convictions. People who think otherwise are tiresome.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

XKCD Color Survey Results

I have been accused of not knowing what colors are: not being able to tell the difference between two exactly-the-same shades of white, one of which has been arbitrarily called “eggshell”, for example.

I am not alone. The main finding, to my mind, is,
Nobody can spell “fuchsia”.

So, I now feel vindicated in sticking to basic colors! Unfortunately, this does nothing for the accusation that I have no taste.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tiny Mansion

This looks awesome. But... where do you put the litter box?

(H/T Andromeda)

Pulled Pork

I can’t go downstairs. If I do, I will jump onto the crock pot and eat the contents. L. and I went to the Norwich Farmers’ Market yesterday and came home with a nice haul: local cheese, a bunch of ramps (for ramp risotto! (rampsotto?)), a Mother’s Day gift, a jar of pickled quail eggs (which are DELICIOUS!), and... a pork shoulder from a local farm, which is quietly bubbling away.

I altered the linked recipe by cubing the pork and then browning all the cubes. It took a lot longer this way, but was totally worth it. I also stirred in some crushed garlic, and monkeyed with the dry rub recipe. It smells really, really good.